Tour Cusco: A Day Trip to Ollantaytambo Ruins and an Evening at the Pisco Museum

After my Titicaca adventures, I hopped on yet another night bus to travel to Cusco, where I was going to spend two days before hiking the Inca Trail. Was I sorry to leave Puno? Not particularly, since rain, wind, and generally frigidly cold 3800m above sea level nights were not so fun. So I put all my clothes on, and skipped town. Cusco is said to be the best town in Peru in terms of things to do in the Sacred Valley, wonderful scenery, and great places to stay. So I was excited to check out this Incan nook of the world.

Arriving in Cusco

Arriving in Cusco at 5am (never a good time to get to a new city), I found to the hostel and woke up the ’24 hour’ desk attendant. He tried telling me that check in wasn’t until 11am. I gave him a look of death and said I would cut him if he didn’t give me a bed. He became terrified and checked me in. I climbed into a top bunk and slept like a warm, murderous baby.

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Touring Cusco Inca Sites

Waking up the next morning, I found out two things about Cusco: it’s a lot warmer and sunnier than Puno, and there was a general strike on. Which meant that no buses or taxis were running. And let me tell you, a major Peruvian city with no vehicles on the road is delightfully quiet, though rather disarming. Stores were seemingly not open, though if you knocked on the doors, they were. Stand strong retailers! Now I am all for standing up for your rights, and Go Labor, but really? I only had two days in Cusco and I couldn’t get around! And as we all know, it’s all about me.

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Visit to Sacsawaman in Cusco

Always pragmatic, I figured I’ll do what I can on foot in the immediate area around Cusco. So that led me up the hill to Sacsawaman, a fantastic Inca site that is in great shape and you can easily walk to. Perfect, just what I need for general strike day!

At the front gate of Sacsawaman, I discovered the 4 other missing pieces to my day in Cusco, 4 American girls who were equally confused by the happenings of Cusco, as well as the sites themselves. And thus began a great day wandering around noble Inca sites, making inappropriate jokes about llamas and the miniature replica of Christ the Redeemer. Was I in Brazil?

2 Days in Arequipa Peru will allow you to explore the beautiful Whte City, white water raft the Rio Chili, and eat guinea pig. One of best places in Peru!
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The Sacsawaman Incan ruin site was very cool, made of gigantic stones fit together with the perfection iconic of those O.C.D. Incas, and with very interesting zig zag formations, as it was used as a fortress against those overly aggressive Spaniards. From above the zig zags are very cool, and yes I did think about how Helm’s Deep would have been better if it had have had a few zags.

After a visit up to Jesus and then to another smaller site, we all walked back into Central Cusco to find some food, because admiring history really makes girls hungry.  Something I wish I had have know about? The Chocolate Museum in Cusco Peru! Yep, that’s a thing! I am to this day, bitter that I didn’t go (Did you catch my chocolate pun there <–).

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The Pisco Museum for a Pisco Tasting

That night I met up with my new American posse and we did what all mature, professional, educated women do when in a foreign country. We went to a museum, a truly unique museum in Peru. Well, technically that’s what it was called, but it was the Pisco Museum. Pisco is diabolical liquor and comes in over 200 varieties. Which means we went to a bar. 

Before dinner. Obviously I’m setting the scene for us to drink pisco and start a night of frivolity. We started out with everybody ordering a cocktail. Mine was basically a cosmopolitan made with cranberry pisco instead of vodka. We all tried each others drinks and then figured we should try some straight pisco, because straight alcohol is always a good idea.

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So we (in fact, I, trust me this is an important distinction), ordered a ‘tasting’ of 4 different shots of pure pisco. I ordered it, but we were all going to take mini sips out of the shot glasses and then all share in the fun.

An Education in Peruvian Pisco

Except, unbeknownst to us, this tasting, also came with an education on pisco: the history of pisco, the making of pisco, and the varieties of pisco. So instead of just letting you drink the booze like a normal bar, you had to learn about it! But really, pisco is pretty tasty, and like any alcohol, fascinating to learn about.  

In fact, some people actually plan their entire journeys to Peru around drinking and learning about pisco.  These people are my heroes. 

My education in pisco was made even greater when the person giving this lecture was an Eastern European pisco savant named Sergei, who wafted of cigars and had an unabashed habit of continual uninterrupted eye contact. And since I was the one who actually ordered the tasting, the education was largely directed at me, as was the unabashed uninterrupted eye contact.

Which is awkward to say the least. Especially given the fact that after a pisco Cosmo my attention quickly waned and all I really wanted to do was drink more pisco.

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I finally did get to sip some straight pisco, which makes you feel like your heart is on fire, and then passed each shot onto the rest of the table, so the tasting was a success after all. After the second shot, the feeling of my heart being on fire took over the rest of my body, causing me to overheat under my layers of clothing and resulted in me disrobing down to my tank top and Sergei finally getting embarrassed enough to quickly wrap up the education.

After the pisco was formidably chugged, I put all my clothes back on and we headed to a pizzeria, ate amazing pizza and drank jugs of fantastic sangria. So a chance encounter with some super random gals led to a fantastic night! Unfortunately, the next day they were heading off on their Machu Picchu trip, so after numerous Facebook friend requests, I left my new best friends and struck out on my own the next morning.

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Day Trip near Cusco to the Ollantaytambo Ruins

Since the general strike ended at 4pm on the day of, yes it was literally that precise, I was able to hop a public bus for a day trip to Ollantaytambo the next morning. Ollantaytambo is a small town about 90 minutes away from Cusco that is home to the Inca site of the same name. Ollantaytambo Ruins is amazing site that is built up on a steep hillside, so mucho stair climbing is involved with a trip there.  Ollantaytambo is only one of many places to explore as a day trip from Cusco, and boy do I wish I could have made it out hiking to Rainbow Mountain!

It was also a lesson in leaning into the mountain, because really, those Inca stairs and walkways are not what one would call wide, and the wind was whistling around. There were also multiple school groups of primary schoolers. They were charming, especially the boys who would run past you as you were wheezing your way up the stairs, with no regard for your safety or self-esteem.

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Top Places to Stay in Cusco Peru

There is a ton of accommodation in Cusco, anywhere from hostels, to guesthouses, to ritzy hotels. Here is a variety of some of the best places to stay in Cusco:

Tierra Viva Cusco Centro

3 stars, an Art Deco hotel in historical district in Cusco

Check Availability Now!

Casa Andina Standard Cusco Plaza

3 Stars, a Beaux Arts hotel in historical district in Cusco

Check Availability Now!

Tambo del Arriero Hotel Boutique

3 Stars, Unique artsy hotel in Cusco with restaurant, bar/lounge

Check Availability Now!

Terra Andina Hotel

4 Stars, Hotel in Cusco Historic Center with restaurant, bar/lounge

Check Availability Now!

Upon coming back into Cusco, I was meandering around town and ran into my Huaraz hiking sisters, Helen and Clare, who were sitting on a bench trying to figure out if they would be able to leave Cusco that day or not. They called my name and proved that the travelling world really is a small one.

So the rest of the afternoon I just chilled out, started packing for the Inca Trail, and generally nursing whatever wounds I had, which had increased to include a large crack in my heel and still peeling skin. Thanks sunburn, will you ever let me be?!?inca sites in cusco area, peru historical sites best things in peru

Life on the Road: Backpacking Peru

On that last night bus out of Puno, I found myself so incredibly tired that I entered into what Lindsay refers to as me being disabled tired. I was incapable of staying awake, even though I was pseudo-interacting with the bus attendant girl. In some kind of sub-conscience I knew she was giving out food, so I creepily put my hand out, sleeping zombi style, and took the tray. My lack of real cognition then caused the tray, in my hand, to float in mid-air until the bus lady came back 5 minutes later and asked if I wanted her to take it. I grunted a yes. The hand finally came down. Disabled indeed.

During my pisco-cation, Sergei regularly stopped and asked various questions about pisco to test me on my knowledge retention. It wasn’t good. One of the other girls, Nicole had to jump in and save me almost every time. And every time I could see the disappointment in Sergei’s eyes. Because he was still staring directly into my soul. Shudder.

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During my last pizza in Puno, I was sitting at a table at one of the far ends of the restaurant, by myself, reading. Like a nerd. I was deep into Great Expectations, oblivious to all around me, when very suddenly a traditional Peruvian band started playing and singing in an uproarious fashion, right beside me. I jumped 3 feet in my chair and I’m sure had a look of sheer terror, which was probably fairly amusing to everyb

ody watching, as when I looked up, the entire restaurant was looking at me, since they were all turned in the direction of the band. The band then did nothing except get louder and the lead singer started swaying aggressively, causing me to move to another chair at my table so I wasn’t getting hit with the end of his guitar, and so I wasn’t eating my pizza on their newly staked stage. I did not tip them.things to do near cusco peru ollantaytambo ruin site

In my last blog, I wrote about a crazy thunder and lightening storm that hit on the way to Puno. I also stated that I was shocked, pun intended, to realize that I knew very little about electric storms and requested information about them should anybody know any. Well, I am happy to report that this blog has now become a source of public information, as the inquisitive Mike Bauche read this plea and took up the challenge, and I will now share his results with all of you, because learning is fun, and in this case, could save your life:


“Great stuff, Emily! Your ignorance of lightning reminded me of my own ignorance of lightning and sparked a bit of a research blitz in me. By the way, most vehicle tires have “carbon black” (?) added to them to make them more conductive. Lightning strikes and passes though the metal frame of the car roof to bottom. Then through the tires to the ground – instead of through your body. So it’s safe…safe-ish. You don’t want to be outside your car, touching it. Also, I don’t think shoes help no matter what kind they are. If you’re going to get hit where you stand, you’re going to get hit where you stand. Apparently, airplanes get hit by lightning all the time. Harmless for the passengers. The plane may take on some minor damage, though. Again, the lightning will just pass through the metal shell of the plane.  Apparently (Apparently, I need a thesaurus), only 1 in 5 people die from lightning strikes and this is largely due to cardiovascular complications. The medical study of these complications is called kerauno medicine and doesn’t have much to do with the Matrix at all.  Keep on posting!”

So thanks to Mike!!!!

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2 days to tour Cusco Peru brings day trips to Inca sites Sacsawaman and Ollantaytambo, plus an education in the history and drinking of Pisco!

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